The Best and Worst ISPs in America | Wbactive

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Dear ISPs of America, we’re on to your tricks.

Last year, I encouraged Washington Post readers to participate in a major nationwide study of ISPs by uploading a copy of their monthly bills to Fair for Fair Internet, a project of Consumer Reports and other partners. About 22,000 Americans did, and the results released Thursday show the many ways internet and cable companies are getting away with increasing our bills.

For you and me, examining ISPs large and small alike provides a clearer view of their worst behaviors — and how to fight back. The most important lesson for saving: Calling and threatening to quit works. It’s super annoying, I know, but Verizon (for example) discounted 58 percent of submitted bills, with an astounding $40 monthly median discount.

The study’s focus on ISP tricks, including bogus fees, data caps and wildly inconsistent pricing, is also new evidence that there simply isn’t a competitive Internet service market in many parts of America. Who would put up with that if it existed? According to a 2021 White House report, about 200 million people live in parts of America with only one or two options for reliable, fast internet.

The study also suggests that prices are higher where we don’t have good options. In zip codes where they received bills from only one provider, the average monthly price was $75. In zip codes where they received bills from four or more vendors, the median bill was $65.

That should fuel regulators, including the Federal Communications Commission, which has largely allowed the broadband industry to write its own rules on pricing, fees, and even how transparent they need to be on our bills. “It’s helpful to know what people are actually paying in one of the most deregulated companies,” says Jonathan Schwantes, a Senior Policy Counsel in Consumer Reports Advocacy, who led the investigation.

It’s important to be clear about what the study is telling us – and what isn’t. Although Consumer Reports received bills from every state, this is not a nationally representative sample. There is insufficient data to draw conclusions about some questionable industry behaviors, such as: B. Poorer communities to charge more for the Internet service.

Some in the industry claim we can’t learn anything from studying these bills. Consumer Reports’ effort is an “unscientific study that actively encourages frustrated customers to file bills,” wrote Brian Dietz, senior vice president of strategic communications for the Internet & Television Association, known as NCTA, via email. He also cited a 2021 Consumer Reports poll that found 77 percent of Americans are “satisfied” with broadband connectivity.

Being happy that your service is still going strong is not the same as being happy about cable and internet company gimmicks. The study “represents the current state of the broadband market,” says Schwantes. It gives us a reference point from which to spot high, low, and just plain weird behavior among actual bills.

As I browsed through the data, here’s what struck me – and what it can teach us.

Highest (non-discounted) prices: Optimum and Suddenlink

Altice’s Optimum, one of the country’s largest cable companies, and its subsidiary Suddenlink charged study participants an average price of $89.99 per month for internet service.

Altice spokeswoman Janet Meahan said, “The $89.99 price point is our price list and in most cases is not what the customer pays for their Internet service after considering their entire package and any advertising credit.”

Is your internet service unreliable? Perhaps there is fiber optics in your future.

The Consumer Reports study didn’t measure discounted prices — but Altice’s rate is still very high. The national median price without discount was $74.99, across more than 18,000 bills on which a line item price for Internet services could be determined. (Altice declined to provide Optimum’s median price after discounts.)

Lowest (non-discounted) prices: Sonic

Sonic, a provider in California, charged participants a median of $49 per month. Plus, that’s the price Sonic charged for gigabit-speed fiber optic service — making it a very good deal.

The only problem is that Sonic’s gigabit service has limited range, especially in cities that make it difficult to lay new fiber optic cables. “It’s not good to have a great ISP in the neighboring city/state,” said Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic. “Expansion of our network beyond California is currently in progress, with a number of US markets at various stages of planning, engineering and permitting.”

Where you might pay more for less: AT&T

The more you pay, the faster your speed, right? Not necessarily. Getting sub-broadband speeds can cost as much or more than a super-fast connection.

On volunteer bills, AT&T’s median price for various speed plans was all over the map. people get:

  • 12Mbps paid $63.
  • 45Mbps paid $80.
  • 100Mbps paid $60.
  • 1000Mbps paid $80.

Why should people who can’t even get the minimum broadband speed (25 Mbps) pay more than people who get nimble service? ISPs can and will charge whatever they can get away with in your neighborhood.

“The charges on these bills may reflect older plans that we no longer sell,” AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly said. “Customers with older plans can check our website or call to see if there’s a cheaper deal available for faster speeds and switch service.”

That’s another lesson for all of us: it’s always worth checking to see if there’s a new offer. Unlike wireless carriers, ISPs rarely proactively switch consumers to cheaper or better plans.

Largest discounter: Consolidated Communications

Consolidated, which serves more than 20 states, discounted 66 percent of attendee bills, with a median discount of $30. Verizon, which serves the mid-Atlantic and New England, followed closely at 58 percent and a median of $40.

For you and me, this is a mixed bag: discounts give us some opportunity to go in and bargain. (Even if there isn’t another good option, there’s no harm in trying.) But ultimately, it’s also bad because it means you’re shocked every year or two when you see your bill drop into the has skyrocketed – and you’ll have to call Raise your ISP and go through a dance to get back to a market price. The companies just hope you’ll forget or be conflict-averse enough to allow them to continue overcharging you.

“There are some older pricing plans that included deeper discounts off regular prices. These plans will be updated to new, no-fuss, no-fuss plans,” said Consolidated spokeswoman Nicole Elton. “We want to be transparent with our billing and provide details on our website, advertising and consumer bills.”

The US bailout program to keep people online has been full of deceit and fraud

Verizon spokeswoman Adria Tomaszewski said, “Verizon offers a variety of affordable and reliable broadband options to hundreds of millions of customers across the country.”

ISPs: If you want Americans to like you, stop acting like used car salesmen. Sonic, for one, has a firm no-discount rule.

About 32 percent of subscriber bills from Comcast, America’s largest ISP, bundled Internet with television or other services, making it impossible to know how much they were paying for Internet. That’s a problem, because without knowing broadband price, how do you know if your package is actually a good deal?

The FCC and ISPs have been bickering for years over the idea of ​​requiring a standardized “broadband nutrition label” on monthly bills, which would break down and explain the components of bundled prices.

Comcast spokesman Joel Shadle said the company is in the process of introducing a new billing format that “clearly breaks down the cost of specific services, including Internet.” New customers receive the new invoice when the contract is signed, older customers receive it when the contract is renegotiated or renewed.

Weirdest fee that’s not actually a government contract: Windstream

Respondents’ broadband bills were filled with strange mandatory charges.

Biggest headache: Windstream, which mainly serves rural areas in 18 states, charged volunteer study participants a “deregulated administration fee” at an average price of $7.77. A glossary on the company’s website states, “This fee is not a government-required tax or duty.”

Wait, shouldn’t the argument be that deregulation leads to lower prices?

This DAF charge “was added to broadband customers’ bills years ago to cover the ongoing costs of maintaining our network while we expanded it to meet our customers’ broadband needs,” said Windstream spokesman Scott Morris. In recent years, he said, the company has started including it as part of the regular plan, and customers should contact the company to switch plans.

Highest data cap fee: Cox Communications

Some ISPs put caps on how much data you can use at home, after which they charge overage fees or require you to pay even more for “unlimited” data.

Among participants’ bills, major ISP Cox charged the most, with an average charge of $49.99 for an “unlimited data plan” on top of their regular monthly bill. And Consumer Reports has received at least one bill in which Cox charged a customer without the unlimited plan $100 in overage fees.

It’s unclear whether there’s any technical justification for these charges – in a fixed broadband system, it shouldn’t cost them more money to deliver more data.

Cox spokeswoman Stacie Schafer didn’t answer that question, but said, “More than 95 percent of our customers are not charged for overages in any given month.”

Maximum Equipment Rental Rate: Wave Broadband

Many ISPs recommend that you rent your modem and wireless router from them for a monthly fee. The highest volunteers reported by Consumer Reports were an average of $16 per month from Astound’s Wave Broadband, which serves customers in Washington, Oregon and California.

Wave spokesman Mark Peterson said the fees “allow our customers to have the latest equipment they need, get any upgrades or services they need, and ensure speed compatibility.”

But he also said 99 percent of Wave’s customers have the option to skip the rental fee and own their own gear if they want to.

Important lesson: These rents are almost always a bad deal in the long run. For example, you can buy your own cable modem for as little as $40.

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